She's Not One of Us: Group Membership Moderates the Effect of Fertility Cues on Attractiveness Ratings
Tidwell, Natasha Davis
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Previous research has explored several ways in which human fertility influences attraction in both men and women. One of the frequently replicated effects found in this literature is that men tend to rate vocal samples taken from women during highly fertile stages of their ovulatory cycle as more attractive than vocal samples taken during less fertile times. However, ovulation is a relatively ancient adaptation that females from many species, including humans, have maintained for several million years. Researchers have largely ignored more recent adaptations, such as symbolic ingroup preferences, that could potentially moderate these effects. The present work uses a phylogenetic lens to examine the influence of ingroup and outgroup cues on men?s attraction to the voices of fertile and nonfertile women. In Study 1, fertility and target ethnicity interacted to predict attraction, such that men found highly fertile target voices more attractive than nonfertile target voices; however, this effect reversed for female targets who exhibited foreign-accented speech. Study 2 replicated this finding and also demonstrated that a similar effect occurs in response to a subtle manipulation of the female targets? school membership (same-school versus rival school). Study 3 shows that these results generalize to an older, more diverse sample but suggests that the effect does not persist under certain subtle manipulations (i.e., a minimal group paradigm). Together, these results provide support for a phylogenetic approach to understanding human adaptation by demonstrating that humans? relatively recently evolved preferences for ingroup partners can refocus older reproductive drives. Future research should continue to pursue a potential mechanistic explanation for this effect.